By Reagin von Lehe for The Island Eye News
As if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t causing enough of a problem for the Isle of Palms, city officials now are forced to deal with another major challenge: Ninetyseven of the island’s iconic sabal palm trees have been marked with a white X, indicating that Dominion Energy planned to remove them from 54 different properties, beginning the week of May 18.
At a May 11 meeting, Dominion arborists Mark Branham and Clay Chaplin explained to City Council members that the trees needed to be removed because they are too close to power lines, which could cause voltage issues and possibly fires on the island. Mayor Jimmy Carroll was not happy with the timing of the electric company’s decision to begin removing trees.
“Here we are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and now this comes out,” Carroll said. “I mean, there couldn’t be a worse time to be doing this job.”
The sabal palm is the state tree of South Carolina, and residents have complained to Carroll about the power company’s plan to remove them from their yards.
Dominion Energy mailed letters to those who will be affected by the plan on April 28 but received responses from fewer than half of the residents who will lose trees. Council members expressed concern that local homeowners might not be aware that the trees will be cut down and asked Dominion to follow up with another notification.
“It’s called a slap in the face, the way they were gonna do it,” Carroll said. “I can only imagine coming home not knowing what was taking place.”
Council members asked Dominion to remove the stumps after the trees are cut down, and Carroll pointed out that leaving the stumps in the ground would be an insult to local residents. Bill Turner, vice president of electric operations for Dominion, explained that the power company normally does not remove stumps to avoid the possibility of damaging underground utilities. However, because of the Council’s request, Turner agreed to revisit the possibility of stump removal.
Dominion informed Carroll a few days later that the company would not be removing the stumps.
During the May 11 meeting, members of the Dominion Energy team expressed their desire to preserve the iconic trees. However, they said their biggest concern is the safety of the residents on the island and their property. With the trees growing closer to the power lines, there’s a possibility of an ember falling and catching on fire.
“There’s a much higher percentage of that happening than a global pandemic,” Turner said, adding that other trees have the potential to grow into an issue for electrical systems.
At the conclusion of the meeting, City Council members and representatives of Dominion Energy agreed to work toward a solution to mitigate future problems concerning trees and their danger to power lines. Possibilities might include moving electrical systems underground and planting palms in areas that are a safe distance from power lines.